If you’re pregnant and live with ADHD, things can get complicated quickly. Most of the front-line medications used to treat ADHD in adults are category C drugs. That basically means that there’s insufficient research available to say whether or not the medication is safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
As your body changes throughout your pregnancy, you may notice your ADHD symptoms are heightened. Thankfully, there are lifestyle and behavioral changes that may help. This doesn’t mean that ADHD can or should always be treated without medication. But these alternatives may help improve ADHD symptoms until you deliver.
1. Exercise regularly
Regular physical exercise has many benefits. There’s now evidence that some of those benefits include improved thinking and behavior. Data suggests that exercise can enhance the structure of our brains. For example, it can help protect aging populations from declining in how well they think. A study reported in Current Psychiatry Reports explains that participants experienced neural growth and development following an ongoing exercise regimen. Exercise during pregnancy plays an important role in overall health. As an added bonus, it may help with ADHD symptoms.
2. Get adequate sleep
Many lifestyle situations beyond our control interfere with our ability to get enough sleep. Heavy workloads, busy jobs, and parenting young children can create an environment that makes it hard to sleep for as many hours as needed. The National Institute for Health recommends pregnant women sleep for a few more hours each night. If that’s not doable, they recommend pregnant women take a couple of short naps during the day if they can. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a healthy amount of sleep alongside physical activity can help improve symptoms of ADHD as well.
3. Establish a mindful meditation practice
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that 64 percent of participants with ADHD who received mindfulness meditation training reported a decline in inattentive and hyperactive-impulse symptoms. Participants also reported improvement in self-discipline, self-management, and self-organization. They reported the ability to manage emotions and tolerate distress better as well.
4. Say goodbye to gluten
Not all people with ADHD are gluten intolerant, but celiac disease is considered to be prevalent in people living with ADHD. In one four-year study that included 67 participants with ADHD, 10 of them tested positive for celiac disease. After switching to a gluten-free diet, these participants reported improved behavior and thinking. Consider asking your doctor to test you for celiac disease. As always, discuss any dietary changes with your doctor while you’re pregnant or nursing. Even without celiac disease, varying levels of gluten intolerance may be a possibility.
5. Add a supplement
Use of a daily vitamin supplement has been show to improve ADHD symptoms in some people. A study of an eight-week regimen of magnesium and B6 showed a modification in participants’ behavior. They experienced less hyperactivity, less aggression, and improved attention. Talk to your doctor if you’re interested in adding these supplements to your daily routine.
During pregnancy, let your doctor know about any dietary changes, exercise routines, and supplements you’re interested in trying. The above suggestions may not entirely replace the helpful effects of prescription medication, but they could improve symptoms to help make ADHD more manageable until you deliver.
Kirsten Clodfelter is a freelance writer living in the Midwest. Her work has been published in MedPage Today, MSN, Reader's Digest, Good Housekeeping, EdSurge, Salon.com, and Parents, among other outlets.